Renewable landscapes: what they mean for Yorkshire

Frances Horne, associate landscape architect at Pegasus Group in Leeds, discusses how climate change action can literally start at home.

“Without a change in attitude, and importantly, action, at international, national, and individual levels, we will see the continued fanning of the flames of climate change.”

There’s no doubt that climate change is a hot topic – literally. There are few days go by without mention in the news of extreme weather events, soaring temperatures and droughts which have caused devastating wildfires, torrential rain and flooding, displacing thousands of people from homes and businesses.

In recent weeks the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have given stark warnings that human actions are driving us towards a global increase in temperatures by two degrees Celsius within a generation. As a species we are increasing further the propensity for these kinds of events and earning the criticisms of Greta Thunberg that although we are ‘doing something’, we are not ‘doing enough’.

Action needed

The increase in global temperatures – and other key aspects signed up to at the Paris Agreement at COP 21 – will be discussed at the next meeting of world leaders in Glasgow at the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021. It takes place from October 31, with the aspiration of re-igniting commitment and action towards a sustainable and low-carbon future. Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledges that countries need to take urgent action now to turn the tide on climate change so that we can ‘recover cleaner, rebuild greener and restore our planet’.

The UK has made many pledges: including ending direct support for the fossil fuel energy sector, ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030, and putting into law that the UK will reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Building greener spaces

At a household level, there are some options available to us to instigate a degree of positive change. One which is likely to be familiar is the more readily available option to choose energy from renewable sources. As a multi-disciplinary development consultancy, Pegasus Group has seen an increase in planning applications for renewable development across the UK. As a landscape architect I not only take into consideration the effects of those proposals on the fabric of the landscape itself, the local landscape character, views, and visual amenity of people in the surrounding area, but also to mitigation which can offer additional opportunities for increased biodiversity and tree planting.

Solar developments, although sometimes extending across large tracts of land, can be relatively discrete in the landscape, readily obscured by hedges for instance, and have generally been the prevalent form of onshore renewable energy developments in England since 2015.

Wind direction

During the last six years, however, there has been a hiatus of onshore wind development because of restrictive planning policy. Despite this, a YouGov survey in 2019 showed that 76 per cent of the public had a favourable view of onshore wind[1]. Considering the climate emergency and seeming public attitude to renewable energy, is it time for the Government to shift policy towards a more proactive position such as that of Scottish and Welsh planning policy?

Although change needs to be driven by governments across the globe committing to legislation that protects the planet, a positive public attitude and acknowledgement that such development cannot always be invisible in the landscape, can perhaps go some way to shifting an approach which embraces the renewable technology we have available to us today. In doing so we can play a part in stemming the concerning and rapid effects of climate change which will continue to increasingly affect our lives and those of younger generations.

Renewables

As with most developments, there are positives and negatives, however as planning permission for many renewables schemes such as wind and solar are time-limited (usually around 25 years), so, therefore, are their landscape and visual effects. During that time, technologies improve, and planners have an opportunity to reconsider whether a development should be re-powered (granted a new permission to continue operating if one is sought) or decommissioned and removed. Developments such as these are not a permanent tattoo on the British landscape, but a means of utilising the renewable resources available to us now and should perhaps be considered to be valuable infrastructure akin to transport networks and overhead electrical pylons which carry electricity to many of our homes.

Based on scientific reports, without a change in attitude, and importantly, action, at international, national, and individual levels, we will see the continued fanning of the flames of climate change. Renewable energy is only one facet of positive action, but one which we anticipate being more important and more frequently visible within our landscapes over the coming years and this should be seen as a positive indicator of progress towards a better future, as there is a long way yet to go.

Frances Horne is an associate landscape architect at Pegasus Group. Find out more at https://www.pegasusgroup.co.uk/offices/leeds/